For weeks I watched the transition take place; the former space of longstanding Zoria and the short lived Main Street Oyster Bar being transformed into the new Half Shell Oyster House. Started in the summer of 2009 in Gulfport, Mississippi and shortly thereafter in Biloxi, the Sarasota Half Shell Oyster House is a joint venture between Bradenton resident Dino Mirando, and the Gulf Coast Restaurant Group headed by Bob Taylor.

Located at 1991 Main Street, on the corner of Links Avenue, the Half Shell Oyster House is an impressive space. Dark rich wood tones, tiled floors, wrought iron railings, white linen tablecloths, and a large high ceiling space, the newest place on Main Street exudes southern charm and offers a menu which is totally complementary.

Signature Charbroiled Oyster

Center stage on the menu, oysters of course, with the Half Shell signature charbroiled being one of many choices. Shrimp, crab cakes, and fish round out the seafood selections; however there are salads, pasta, chicken and steak for the non-seafood lover. In other words, the Half Shell offers a broad choice of menu items for all diners. The Half Shell Oyster House opens daily at 11am.

Pre-opening Reception: A “Win/Win” Event

On Friday January 6, 2012, the Half Shell Oyster House sponsored a pre-opening reception supporting the Mark Wandall Foundation.

About the Foundation:

The Mark Wandall Foundation formed in 2003 in honor of Mark Jeffery Wandall who tragically lost his life due to the negligence of a red light runner. The primary missions of the foundation are to support and nurture children in our community who have experienced loss in their lives and to educate and raise awareness regarding traffic safety and compliance.

This pre-opening reception was most certainly a win/win event attended by hundreds of people. Launching their first event, The Half Shell Oyster House underscores their care and concern for the community; while donating all the food, drinks, wine, beer, venue and staff for the evening, creates a well-received fund raising event for the Mark Wandall Foundation.

What better way to stress test your staff, make sure you are ready to open,  and give something back to the community?

Well done!


Everyone loves a party, especially one done in grand style. Such was the case for the 2012 Forks and Corks Grand Tasting held on Sunday, Jan. 29. The 5th Annual Forks & Corks Food & Wine Festival was hosted by the Sarasota-Manatee Originals and made possible through event sponsors, donors and business partners.  Sarasota’s culinary creativity, range and diversity were all  showcased in a series of winemaker dinners, interactive seminars and classes and with the culminating public event, the Grand Tasting.

The Sunday afternoon was “picture perfect” for an outdoor event: bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky with temps in the 70s. The magnificent courtyard of the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art served as center stage for a palate-pleasing presentation. The performers, approximately 50 local chefs and restaurateurs, combined their culinary talents with 80 international winemakers to present one of the finest flavorful food festivals in Sarasota.

The Grand Tasting event was scheduled from 12-4 pm. We arrived fashionably late (12:20pm), only to find the crowd already sizeable. With 1000-plus people attending and this event being a quick sell-out, we anticipated some difficulty with logistics. This was not the case at all! Registration was easy, the program well-organized, signage was good and the flow of people easily managed. All we needed was a plan to navigate more than 85 tables offering food, beer and wine. Our initial plan was amazingly simple in concept: start in numeric order, do a quick survey of the various foods and wines being offered (noting the ones we wanted to explore further) and then circle back to those tables we highlighted. We quickly realized our levels of interest far exceeded our capacity to taste and consume. So much for best-laid plans! Here are some of the highlights from our gastronomic trek.

Osso Bucco from Ophelia's

Local Food:

– Lamb Osso Bucco from Ophelia’s on the Bay
– Grilled Flank Steak on Artisan Roll from Michael’s on East
– Bruchetta Pomodoro and Agnolotti from Salute!
– Spicy Korean Pork Belly Happy Buns from The Polo Grill & Bar
– Kobe Beef Sliders from Square 1 Burgers & Bar
– Classic Caesar Salad from Euphemia Haye

Taylor Bay Scallop Crudo from Derek's

– Taylor Bay Scallop Crudo from Derek’s Culinary Casual
– White Bean Cassoulet from Bijou Café

Food photos courtesy of Larry Hoffman.



Wines from around the world:

– Bell Pinot Gris from Bell Wine Cellars
– Whispering Angel Rosé from Chateau D’Esclans
– Sondraia Bolgheri DOC from Poggio al Tesoro
– Noble Riesling from Helfrich
– Carneros Chardonnay from Merryvale Winery
– Champagne Rosé from Nicholas Feuillatte
– Mint Haven Cabernet from Morgenhof Estate
– Chenin Blanc from Post House

The afternoon was truly delightful, combining some of Sarasota’s finest assets: food, wine, people and weather in one amazing place.  Plus, on your way out all of the wines tasted were offered for purchase in a special retail tent at a discounted price. Now how is that for an added bonus? For those who like to plan ahead, next year’s Forks & Corks is scheduled for Jan. 25-28, 2013. Tickets go on sale Nov. 12, 2012.

Congratulations to all the people who made the 2012 Forks & Corks such a great success. Sarasota was proudly represented!

Photo by Peter Acker.


Planning a successful fundraising event can be daunting. There are innumerable tasks, hundreds of details, logistics to consider, inevitable last-minute changes and challenges to master before the event can even take place, let alone be successful.

Planning these types of events since 1991, the Florida Winefest & Auction team makes this type of challenge appear easy. Having raised $7.5 million raised for children’s charities, the Florida Winefest’s Balloon Glow Dinner was their latest example of an elegant, fun-filled fundraising event.


The Balloon Glow Dinner

The first of its kind in the Sarasota area, the Balloon Glow Dinner was held under the stars at the 85-acre Herschberger Ranch on Friday, Feb. 24, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Imagine a wide-open field and pond at sunset. On one side of the pond, there’s a tent-covered area with 20 round tables elegantly set. On the other side of the pond, six hot air balloons intermittently fire their propane burners, providing a colorful glow from the inside of the balloon and the corresponding reflection off the water—truly an interesting backdrop.

The gourmet dinner catered by Chef Paul Mattison was served buffet-style, with four primary food stations and three dessert stations all set up around the back perimeter of the tent. The menu consisted of the following:

  • Panzanella: Fennel-crusted bread salad of olives, anchovies, and capers with a red wine reduction.
  • Ripe Tomatoes and Boccancini: Mozzarella with caramelized onions and fresh basil oil.
  • Strawberry Salad: Romaine lettuce with strawberries, candied walnuts, gorgonzola and chopped red onion served with Sauvignon vinaigrette.
  • Pan Roasted Rack of Baby Lamb: New Zealand rack with a mint, tomato and lemon confiture.
  • Sliced Duck Breast: With mandarin oranges, roasted shallots, candied pecans and ginger demi.
  • Carved Beef Tenderloin
  • Paella: Traditional Spanish saffron rice with shrimp, mussels, fresh fish, chorizo, pork, garlic, onions, peas, artichoke hearts and tomatoes.
  • Plank Broiled Salmon: With basil, lemon and a Vernaccia cream sauce.
  • Shrimp
  • Chicken in Chianti: Slow-roasted chicken thighs with onions, tomatoes, celery, carrots, pine nuts, sultanas, demi-glace and sage.
  • Grilled Quail: With dried cranberry sauce.
  • Risotto: Fugi con Tortifo.
  • Smore’s: Fire pits, Graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate and loads of fun.
  • Warm Apple Crisp: Deep-dish apple cobbler topped with vanilla bean gelato
  • Bananas Foster Flambé Crepe: Fresh-cut bananas, caramelized brown sugar, cinnamon and crème fraiche flambeed in a crepe with imported dark rum and banana liquor, topped with fresh, sweetened whipped cream.

Jim and Sharon Butler enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail.

As one would expect from the Florida Winefest & Auction, an ample selection of boutique wines ranging from sparkling, white, rosé, and red in various varietals were available as an aperitif and an accompaniment to the meal. Music for the evening was provided by John Rinell.

This year’s Balloon Glow Dinner served as a preview for next year’s event: Planning is already underway for 2013 Florida Winefest and Hot Air Balloon Festival to be held at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch. Plans include participation from 15 to 20 balloonists, rides and much more to come—another first of its kind in Sarasota!

Florida Winefest & Auction’s 22nd annual event will be held in Sarasota, April 12 through April 15, 2012. For more information on all the events and ticket purchases, go to the Florida Winefest & Auction website.

Under the tent at the Balloon Glow Dinner. All photos by Candice McElyea.


SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide

Today’s taste test focuses on another South African wine; this time the Dombeya Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from Stellenbosch.

Background: Something old is something new again!

Even though wines were produced in South Africa for 350 years, the country itself is still considered  a new world producer. In the earliest of years, wine production and techniques were influenced by  European settlers from the Netherlands, England, Italy, and Germany. Although the South African wine industry was growing and production improving, the exportation of South African wines was still quite limited through the 20th century.      

In the 1990’s a confluence of events:      

1) Nelson Mandela’s freedom in 1990
2) The introduction of democracy in 1994
3) The economic and political desire to reemerge on the international trading market
4) Investment capital in export industries i.e. wine      

As such, an old world wine industry becomes a new world wine producer.

The winery: Dombeya Wines

The Name
The Dombeya tree (tropical hydrangea) is native to South Africa, with extraordinarily beautiful flowers that bring South Africa’s spring season to life. The Dombeya tree, which is interspersed throughout the region and symbolizes regeneration and renewal for modern-day South Africa, is the namesake for this hand-crafted winemaker. Located in the heart of Stellenbosch, home to some of South Africa’s best wines, Dombeya Wines is committed to producing wines characteristically representative of the region.

The Winemaker
The wines of Dombeya are made by Rianie Strydom, one of South Africa’s most celebrated wine makers. Since commencing winemaking duties at Dombeya in 2005, her wines have won many awards and gold medals, including a Veritas Awards Double-Gold Medal in 2007 for the 2005 Boulder Road Shiraz

The Soil and Viticulture
The two sites that the vineyards come from are in Stellenbosch, one on the Helderberg Mountain and the other in Faure. Both vineyards are southeast facing and receive cooling sea-breezes from the ocean in the afternoon. The soil consists of coarse sand with underlying clay and “coffee-stone” fragments. The latter is very common in the Helderberg area.

The 2008 harvest was not without difficulty for the making of Sauvignon Blanc, due to rain in the ripening period. One benefit though was that the average night temperatures were relatively low compared to the day temperatures which was great for the preservation of flavour. This allowed for slower ripening and thus better phenolic ripeness at lower sugar levels. The wine has a lovely tropical
balance and a full mouth feel, which makes it a lovely food wine.

The grapes were handpicked before 10am to preserve the flavours and fermented with Zymaflor VL3 and Anchor Vin 7 yeast strains at average temperature below 15°C. After ferment the wine was kept on the gross lees until bottling in August. The vineyards were planted in 2001 and are well protected from direct sunlight due to its vigorous growth.

The Wine: Dombeya Sauvignon Blanc 2008


Alc: 13.67%
Total Extract: 24.0 g/l
Res sugar: 3.5 g/l
T.A.: 7.2 g/l
V.A.: 0.46 g/l
pH: 3.54


Our tasting:

On our 1st pour we noticed a very light, pale straw color, a crisp dry taste with a hint of fruit. The wine had a good “feel” in the mouth. We sensed the wine would pair well with food, seafood in particular. So we served a shrimp, scallop, and tomato ceviche, pan seared, Cajun spiced, Grouper with a tropical salsa, and a rice pilaf. The ceviche is an acidic dish using lemon and lime juice as its main cooking ingredients. Usually this level of acidity will “kill” the taste of the wine but we were surprised! The underlying fruit became quite pronounced and the wine had a very fruity taste with this pairing. Next came the grouper and pineapple salsa. Once again the wine did fine; offering a good balance between fruit and acid. A really nice taste and complement to the meal.

This wine truly demonstrates a range of flavor. Served as an apéritif the wine demonstrates a steely reserved character with a hint of fruit. Paired with an acidic dish, the wine is transformed into a fruity delight. Served with a spicy and sweet dish the true balance is shown.

Where to buy the wine:



A special thank you to the folks at GOS Wines for their support in providing information and the wine.

SRQ Reviews Network

We are beginning a tasting tour of wines from the Southern Hemisphere; in particular wines from Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, and South Africa. Today we are tasting a strong blended white wine from South Africa.

South African winery

Background: Something old is something new again!

Even though wines have been produced in South Africa for 350 years, the country itself is still considered to be a new world producer. In the earliest of years, wine production and techniques were influenced by  European settlers from the Netherlands, England, Italy, and Germany. Although the South African wine industry was growing and production improving, the exportation of South African wines was still quite limited through the 20th century.

In the 1990’s a confluence of events:

1) Nelson Mandela’s freedom in 1990
2) The introduction of democracy in 1994
3) The economic and political desire to reemerge on the international trading market
4) Investment capital in export industries i.e. wine

truly opened up the world market potential for South African wines. As such, an old world wine industry becomes a new world wine producer. 

The winery: Bouchard Finlayson

Established in 1989, Bouchard Finlayson is a boutique winery dedicated to the making of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc wines of outstanding quality.

Peter Finlayson was the very highly regarded wine-maker at Hamilton Russell Vineyards in the cool-climate of the Walker Bay area in South Africa. In 1989, Paul Bouchard of the great Burgundy domaine/negociant was invited to South Africa to judge a prestigious wine competition. He offered a special prize for the top wine-maker: a visit to his home in Burgundy. Peter Finlayson won the prize, and spent a week visiting with Bouchard. Around the same time, Peter had spotted a small, coastal farm for sale in Walker Bay, which he believed had the perfect terroir for growing pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. He started a campaign of fund-raising to establish his own winery, and he persuaded Bouchard to join him in the new venture. And so, the New World/Old World partnership of Bouchard-Finlayson was born.

The climate of Walker Bay is largely influenced by the nearby, cold Atlantic Ocean rendering it one of the coolest wine growing areas on the Cape. The valley is surrounded and sheltered by a mountain barrier which traps the cloud cover and moisture brought in from the sea by the prevailing wind. The sea breezes work to keep the vines cool thereby encouraging slow ripening and flavor rich grapes.

Total annual production is approximately 12,000 cases.

The Wine: Blanc DE Mer 2007

A varietal blend consisting of 39% Riesling, 33% Viognier, 17% Sauvignon Blanc, and 11% Chenin Blanc

Alcohol: 14% vol
pH: 3.40
RS: 1.35 g/l
Total Acid: 5.5 g/l

Our Tasting:

On our 1st pour we noticed the color: a very pleasing light golden hue. Upon 1st taste we were surprised by the character of the wine. This is a big tasting wine, strong for a white but in no way overpowering. The taste of the fruit was evident and in no way overshadowed.  Since the Blanc De Mer is a varietal blend, we knew the individual characteristics of the grapes would be enhanced with selective food pairings.

We decided to make a Tuscan olive oil (spicy pepper, herbs and salt), dip some crusty bread, and see how the wine stood up to these tastes. Very nice indeed. The Riesling and Viogneir components of the wine easily handled the spiciness of the oil. It was a nice combination fruity and  refreshing.

For the next course, we served grilled Italian Grouper (olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper), carmelized grilled beets, and quinoa. With this pairing the wine was outstanding.  Citrus undertones, undoubtedly from the sauvignon blanc, truly enhanced the taste of the fish. The wine has a rich taste and an almost silky texture which pairs very well with the sweet grilled tastes of the beets and the crunchy nutty texture of the quinoa.

The Blanc DE Mer is a versatile all round white wine which can easily pair with a wide variety of foods. It will be outstanding with seafood, especially grilled firm fish such as: salmon, snapper, grouper, sea bass, or swordfish. The wine easily displays characteristics of  higher priced wines and with a retail price range of $14-$18 offers a good price to value ratio.

 Where to buy the wine:

A special thank you to the folks at Terry Seitz Inc. for their support in providing information on the wine.